Begin Again: Part Three
The Bottom of Night
Lukirri slides beneath the cold sheets of Hedera’s bed with a sigh.
She’d dumped the sticks she gathered earlier into the stone fire place and lit it with her breath. There had already been some glowing logs slowly dying in it, but Lukirri feels like unloading herself.
The room doesn’t exactly warm up much. It feels drafty, even though it’s in the side of the mountain, and is the furthest room from the now-howling winds of the great outdoors. Lukirri grumbles, gets out of bed, and slumps over in front of the fireplace. She hates being alone. She wants to go talk to anyone – even if it’s Hedera – or at least watch her work. But she already knows that even trying would lose some of Hedera’s favor.
Lukirri wonders when “bedtime” is. It’s already getting on in the night.
Lukirri awakens from her nap with a start. She thought she was too impatient and annoyed to fall asleep, but she’ll have to get used to having erratic sleep patterns by now.
But then she discovers what woke her up. Hedera pushes the door the rest of the way open and claps her hands. The room is instantly lit up. Lukirri hides her face, blinded.
Hedera gives Lukirri that hollow gaze – again – and sighs deeply. Lukirri grimaces. Hedera has some bad habits.
She notices Hedera brandishes a gnarled stave. The Bori holds it out, focuses, and conjures a low, narrow bed by the large one with a single wave. Lukirri gazes in fascination.
“…I bet you’re probably wondering about food.” Hedera cocks her head back and stares wistfully at the ceiling. She’s hatless now. “Well, I fly down to the Haunted Woods for my shopping, but I’m not sure you’d appreciate many of the same foods I do… but we can easily get fish and berries. How does that sound?”
“I’ll eat anything,” Lukirri blurts.
“Anything?” Hedera tilts her head thoughtfully. “That’s what I thought once… How about, you’ll eat anything I have?”
“Let’s try it.”
Hedera starts Lukirri out on ghostkersandwiches.
The popular treat started out as meals for the children of Haunted Woods tourists, Hedera explains. However, the appeal of being cut in the shape of a Ghostkerchief appealed to adults as well, so it caught on. They were also known for creamy spreads, usually with no solid ingredients.
Lukirri noms two of them with joy, cheeks stretching with fullness. Hedera observes her casually as she sips gracefully at a single cocktail.
Hedera rises when Lukirri finishes. She turns swiftly back to the pantry (her kitchenette is attached to the library) and fishes in a cupboard. Then, she sets out a tray of pretzels frosted with slime. The sour taste doesn’t faze Lukirri, who downs them almost instantly.
Hedera pauses. She observes Lukirri with a touch of amusement in her eye.
“Still hungry?” Hedera asks.
“I think I can handle one more course.”
Hedera smiles for the first time. “I hope you’re ready for food that bites back.”
Hedera puts before Lukirri a plate of hummus. Lukirri peers at it curiously, but lurches back when it opens up a gaping maw. “Eat up,” Hedera says dryly.
Lukirri tentatively grasps a fork. “How, exactly?”
With those words, Hedera leaves the room.
Lukirri shudders, alone with the hungry hummus. She begins to stab at it with her fork. It latches onto the fork, and Lukirri jumps back.
But then she creeps forward, lifts the dish into the air, and begins breathing fire onto the hummus. As it blackens, it stops fighting, until it’s still.
Lukirri lets out a breath of relief. She takes the fork out and digs in.
Kind of toasty, but she got the job done.
“Hedera?” Lukirri calls, emerging from the kitchenette. “Where did you go?”
Lukirri growls in frustration. Hedera is nowhere in the open library.
It doesn’t matter. That was a rather large meal, and Lukirri is always ready for bed. She saunters down the hall, back into the bedroom, and into the little bed Hedera made not thirty minutes ago. “Good night,” she whispers, to nobody.
The next morning, she wakes up late in the day. It finally feels like she’s going to slip into some sort of routine. Something more normal than eating when she’s hungry and travelling when she’s not tired. Better.
“Glad to see you made it to bed on your own.” Hedera stands on her ladder, sliding around, gathering books. “Go help yourself to whatever in the kitchen. I’m busy.”
“Doing what?” Lukirri rubs her eyes.
“You want your memories back, don’t you? I’ve got to do research.”
“Then you are helping me! Thank you thank you thank you!”
“What, you thought I’d just forget about you?” Hedera puts the books she was holding back on the shelf. “Sooner you find your memories, sooner you’re out of my hair.”
“No harsh feelings,” Hedera adds idly, scanning the titles of her books. “I… I just need some alone time.”
“Do you want me to go out for awhile?”
"N-no, it wouldn't be fair of me. I wouldn’t send you out in that cold. You haven’t been inside for very long at all."
"Fair of you? Why do you keep saying that? You don't owe me anything."
"…I just don't think it would be fair. I realize I've acted… irrationally, and I'm trying to be nicer to you. I've been unfair." Hedera starts descending the ladder.
Lukirri frowns. "You haven’t been unfair to me at all. In fact, you never really had to do a single thing for me. I'm very thankful for the help you've been, even if I haven't found any of my memories yet."
"Y-y-yeah. Listen… I think I should be working. Can you entertain yourself for awhile?"
"Depends, are there any of your precious books you'll let me touch?"
Hedera glances to Lukirri, but quickly discovers the Draik is good-natured about it.
"Fiction. Bottom two rows under shelf number three. And only books and papers from there!"
Hedera quickly dashes off and disappears.
Disappointed again at Hedera’s disappearance, Lukirri grumbles. Nonetheless, she reaches for a copy of the Neopian Times, and begins reading.
“Hedera?” Lukirri rises, deciding she’s read long enough. It’s been hours, in fact.
Hours with no word from Hedera.
Lukirri finds Hedera slumped over at her desk. A single dying candle lights the Bori’s exhausted face, casting long shadows across the rest of the room. Lukirri shakes the Bori’s shoulder. Hedera jerks her head upwards, sobbing, that single eye wide with anxiety. “Take them!” Hedera cries, grabbing something up from the table. “Take your memories! I don’t want them! Take them!”
Hedera hurls the gemstone across the room. Lukirri takes several rapid steps backwards. Hedera slams a clawed fist onto the desk, sobbing hysterically; and then settling into a weary sniffle; and, finally, falling deathly silent.
“Hedera…” Lukirri approaches the figure slumped over at the desk. “Hedera, it’s over now. I don’t know what my memories did to you, but they’re mine now, right? You’ve recovered them. It’s over.”
Lukirri’s voice is tender and coaxing.
She gets the sinking feeling that she’s only trying to fool herself.
“Hedera!” Lukirri snaps, shaking Hedera’s body and screaming her name repeatedly. The Bori’s hat falls, revealing a face that is comatose and deceptively restful.
Lukirri clutches her chest. She can feel her own heartbeat like a fatal wound. “Hedera, what’s wrong with you?! Please, do something!”
The candle flickers out. Lukirri is left in cold, dark silence. Alone.
Lukirri finds herself stumbling from the study, still clutching her chest, mind wild with a single thought: I have to save Hedera.
With every second, Lukirri’s hope slips away. Even when she lights another candle, she feels in darkness. Even when she fills the air with the scream of Hedera’s name, she hears nothing but ringing silence. Nothing warms her, nothing saves her. She is alone, and not alone in a bright field, with the whole future before her. Now she is really, truly, hopelessly alone.
Hedera has a heartbeat.
It’s faint. But, as Lukirri clings desperately to Hedera, it keeps going. Weakly. Worriedly. And a little weary of this world. But it’s the best sound in the world. The only light. And though it may be just a flickering candle, it’s a candle that casts a warm orange glow.
Lukirri, breathing deeply, rises from where Hedera lies slumped, now on the ground. Her own heartbeat still feels rapid and terrifying. Part of Lukirri’s mind still wants to get ready for bed and pretend that nothing is wrong. Hedera’s condition was a very, very rude awakening indeed. Lukirri gropes around the desk for a fresh candle, lights it with her breath, and begins examining the dusty floorboards, searching for the gem Hedera had thrown.
Lukirri finds it. “My memories, huh?” It’s little more than a small emerald. “They’ll have to wait. I have no idea how to take them back for my own. Hedera, you can’t die on me here. You have to help me take the final step.”
Lukirri stuffs the emerald into the tresses of her scarf, and leaves the room.
Hedera’s library still feels forbidden. But now, rather than welcoming, it looks intimidating.
Lukirri knows that Hedera never did gave her permission to browse anything more than the fiction section. “Dang it, Hedera. I don’t care what you think.” Lukirri climbs onto that fancy riding ladder and begins to wheel herself across the shelves. She scans the gilded titles with nervous resolve.
She flies past titles she can read the names of and titles she can’t. Fancy glass baubles and dusty stone statues. Cookbooks and biographies and…
“Medicinal.” Lukirri’s head slumps. She has no idea what she’s looking for.
That doesn’t stop her from trying to figure it out. “Magical illnesses. Magical.” Hedera’s gotten herself sick on magic, most certainly. Memory magic. Somehow.
“Why would my memories just attack you like that?” Lukirri moans. “After you worked so hard to recover them for me, too.” Lukirri stares down chapter lists and content tables, throwing books over her shoulders. The chandelier overhead is dimming. Although Lukirri reads, completely different words, the same ones over and over, echo in her head.
Take your memories.
Lukirri empties a shelf. Its contents lie strewn across the floor.
I don’t want them.
Lukirri feels more and more nervous. The chandelier keeps growing dimmer and dimmer. The once-brilliant room now feels like a dusty cavern full of haunts.
Lukirri stops. She fishes the emerald out of her scarf and holds it out in her hand.
“You did this to me, didn’t you?” Lukirri stares sadly. “You took my memories.”
It’s so dark Lukirri can barely see. She shivers.
“You made some bad choices, but I’m not letting it be the end of you.” Lukirri scrambles away on all fours from the empty chamber. She still grips the gem in her jaws, and she remembers something somebody told her, almost as far back as she can remember:
The hand that does is sometimes the only thing that will undo.
“You must feel awful for what you’ve done,” Lukirri whispers, holding her memories close over Hedera’s heart. The Bori stirs, just barely.
“If I was worth stealing the memories of, if I was worth keeping the memories of, for whatever reason…” Lukirri shakes her head, staring sorrowfully at the little stone of memories. “Snap Hedera out of this. I don’t know if this is you rebelling against her, or it’s some magic sickness thing, but if you’re part of me you’ll stop.”
Lukirri clutches the gem one last time.
“I don’t need you half as much as I believe in Hedera.”
Lukirri presses her memories into Hedera’s fur. “Even if she didn’t want me. Even if she did this to me. Even if I still feel violated and betrayed by what she did. Even if she was never really on my side until just now. She gave you back to me. To me, that’s forgiveness.”
Lukirri stands all the way up and crosses her arms.
“I’d rather lose my past than let her die. Maybe she’s a witch. But she was sorry for what she did. At the very last second, but… I guess letting her slip away would be unfair of me.”
The gem rattles violently for a moment and then stop dead. Lukirri can tell that it holds no memories now.
Her memories are all gone.
Hedera groans. Lukirri turns around, enthused. But this time, she doesn’t call Hedera’s name, and she doesn’t run to meet her. They need to talk. Hedera wheezes, lifting herself to her feet. And Lukirri goes to help her. Slowly, steadily this time. Like they’re meeting again. Meeting differently.
Lukirri helps Hedera out to the library. It’s still a mess from Lukirri’s search. But the cauldron is bubbling in the kitchenette. And the chandelier, although nowhere near its full glory, gives off a calming golden glow.
Hedera collapses into a sofa at Lukirri’s release. Her eye gazes up at the Draik, foggy and unfocused.
“It’s okay,” Lukirri coaxes. “I know what you did. And… I forgive you.”
To be continued…